Phantom Camera searches for ways to escape the traps of autobiographical self-absorption while retaining the warmth and energy of personal narrative. Bolina’s speakers are often melancholy and estranged, yet charmingly ironic about their estrangement. Drama both funny and touching arises from their efforts to stay safe while longing for human connection.
Jaswinder Bolina’s second book of poetry is a stunning performance, as beautiful, accomplished, and memorable as any volume of poetry I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Arriving at the last poem in this fine work, all I could feel was a hunger for more, and the deepest gratitude for Bolina’s rare intellectual and artistic gifts.
Addressing us from ”this precise moment in America” at which ”the nation is a hallway all vanishing point no conclusion,” Bolina proves to be a virtuoso at ontological standup comedy or is it elegy? as his lyric riffs hit ”the crease in [the] brain where the self accumulates.” These are poems that will retain their intensity unto many re-readings.
As full of candor and ontological inquiry as they are of verve, panache, and wit, the poems in Bolina’s second collection stretch and dilate, in order to, as the author puts it, “feel so attached—like a ligament—to the whole shebang of human experience.” These poems include subject matter of all kinds, and to read them can feel like being led through the chaos of contemporary life by a warm yet incisive mind.
And so, Bolina returns to the speech acts people share, rather than dwell insistently on issues of income or pigment. This allows ample space for Bolina’s lyrics to explore intersections between physicality, nationality, and language. After all, “phantom” can mean both the visible image of something incorporeal—a ghost—but also a mental image. Bolina’s latest book handles the interiority of mind and the exteriority of body with equal parts intelligent intensity and polished wordplay.
“I haven’t seen an ocean for years, but I know one’s out there,” states Bolina. In fact, it’s here in Bolina’s book, a veritable tidal wave of verse, lines spilling forth propulsively and carrying with them keen observation of the everyday, “the jamboree of a crosswalk.” This Green Rose Prize winner is sophisticated but eminently embraceable, a tip-off of what’s to come.
Morality is a funny business in Jaswinder Bolina’s second book of poetry, the 2012 Green Rose Prize winner, Phantom Camera. Organized in three parts, Bolina’s collection explores the uniquely American tension between nationalism and individuality. Romance is conflated with patriotism, and neither critical theory nor sex consoles the chronically dissatisfied self. Though wit abounds, the heartiest belly laughs in the book are tinged with sorrow. In a country Bolina describes as “all vanishing point and no conclusion,” ambivalence strikes like a plague.
In a recent Guernica interview, Bolina said, “I want words in the poems that aren’t in anybody else’s poems, or I want to put words together that don’t usually go together: Oldsmobile and gladiola, Nader and grackle, Topeka and boffo.” Phantom Camera is full of these consistently surprising juxtapositions, and is a collection that leaves you unable to resist a second consecutive reading.
Jaswinder Bolina’s poems are courageously transparent, and absorbing, in a time of increasing poetic artifice. We are easily drawn to this young poet of Indian origin, born and raised in the U.S.